Zdravko Počivalšek, Slovenian Minister of Economic Development and Technology: DIGITISATION CREATES SPACE FOR CLOSER COOPERATION

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“EU markets represent the main export markets for Slovenian companies, since almost 80% of all export is generated on them. While it is a sign of high productivity and competitiveness of the Slovenian economy it also leads to a great dependence of the Slovenian economy at the time when there is a risk of a possible economic downturn in these economies”, says Zdravko Počivalšek, Slovenian Minister of Economic Development and Technology.

Therefore, says Mr Pocivalsek, Slovenia has already set goals within the framework of its existing strategic documents, which refers to the increased presence of Slovenian companies in non- EU markets. An increase in exports to non-EU markets would help increase total Slovenian export and diversify international risks.

When it comes to the Western Balkan, the region is still Slovenia’s second most important economic region, immediately after the EU. “It represents an extremely important export market, since exports to this region account for more than 15% of total Slovenian exports, together with exports to Croatia”, says our interlocutor.
Slovenian trade with the countries of the Western Balkans is on the rise. In 2017, Slovenian companies exported more than EUR 4.2 billion goods to the Western Balkans market, which is 7.5% more than in 2016 and 18.9% more than in 2015. Overlooking Croatia, the most important foreign trade partners within the region are Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Slovenia is also one of the most important investors in all countries of the Western Balkans. Over 1500 of them are registered in Serbia, which is the largest number among all foreign investors in Serbia. In addition to the well known advantages such as closeness of the market, and language knowledge, which the Slovenian economy has in business on the Serbian market, one of the most important factors is the inclusion of Serbia in the European Union.

How many companies have already been established or about to be established in Slovenia that we can classify as operating in line with Industry 4.0?

Slovenian Government wants to position Slovenia as a recognisable blockchain destination in the EU – a blockchain hub in Europe. In order to facilitate the transition to Industry 4.0, the Slovenian Digital Coalition was formed – digitalna.si, a coordinative and consultative open forum which brings together stakeholders from business, research, NGOs, local communities, the public sector and government in the field of digitization. Slovenian Digital Coalition was strengthened with the support block “Blockchain Think Tank”, which now includes over 500 stakeholders. 5% of all global investments were invested in Slovenian blockchain projects. According to the latest estimates, there are between 30 and 50 companies involved in blockchain technology and the number is constantly increasing.

Digitalisation and digital transformation is one of the key priority for our Ministry and Slovenia as a whole. We have already started with different measures that are connected and complementary, such as public tender e-business for SMEs, that targets enterprises going international, one stop shop for digitalisation that will create the ecosystem, enables information and promotion, advice and mentoring and finally researches and evaluations, voucher for digital marketing, BIM – 3D construction – the action plan has been prepared and is in interministerial cooperation.

At the moment we are in the phase of preparation of a policy paper – Program of the implementation of the Digital Transformation into the companies (towards sustainable development). We define four pillars in the programme: (1) IoT and machine learning, (2) Artificial intelligence and transformation of decision making processes, (3) Development of digital competences and (4) Blockchain; and integrate those four pillars into different stages of business process.

Do you believe that digital revolution creates space for new re-grouping of countries according to their economic development? How well is Slovenia going to fare in that ‘race’?

Slovenia ranks 15th out of the 28 EU Member States in the European Commission’s Digital Economy and Society Index for 2018. We belong to the medium-performing cluster of countries such as Spain, Austria, Malta, Lithuania, Germany, Slovenia, Portugal, Czech Republic, France and Latvia. We made significant progress in the use of internet services and the delivery of digital public services and in 2018, we are remaining above the EU average in the integration of digital technologies in enterprises.

How much attention do the Slovenian government and your Ministry pay to the development of e-government? Which e-services do you provide to companies?

Slovenian Government strives to establish a kind, efficient, and modern public administration, which will provide citizens and businesses with efficient and high-quality public services.

In order to achieve this, we have introduced a number of measures and improvements which follow the Public Administration Development Strategy 2020. The measures encompass reorganisation of public administration to improve efficiency and effectiveness, simplification of procedures, increase of transparency and openness of public administration, zero tolerance to corruption and strengthening of integrity, effective local self-government, and digitalisation of public administration.

Our objective is to establish a system in which the authorities function transparently and openly, and where regulations are being adopted following a transparent procedure, contracts are concluded in a transparent manner and the public is informed about the use of public funds.

A document »Digital transformation of Slovenia« was prepared where companies can find all the services they can benefit from. To mention just a few:

The Slovenia Business Point project provides business entities with all the necessary information through the e-SPOT Portal in a simple and transparent manner. In the context of this concept, the existing e-SPOT Portal already efficiently functions as a business portal where companies and entrepreneurs can carry out electronic services when establishing a company, as well as several those most common and mandatory by law, which the business entity can carry out upon or after establishing a company. The process is swift, simple and free of charge. The circle of users is expanding, as in addition to business entities, some e-SPOT services (applying for compulsory social insurance, registration of insurance against accidents at work and occupational diseases and registration of job vacancy) are being used by public administration institutions. The portal is designed as a user friendly website, which -with over 140 physical SPOT points across Slovenia -presents one of the best practices in business support. The e-SPOT portal has 40.000 registered users and in 2016 over 862.000 applications were submitted using the portal.

The Slovenia Business Point was upgraded at the end of 2016 with services mainly intended for foreign entrepreneurs from the EU, which along with information on business-making, also provides cross-border electronic procedures.

A single set of measures for providing an improved legislative and business environment on the STOP the Bureaucracy Portal offers users an overview of all measures and control for realising measures for a better business environment, and a review of the savings in municipalities in Slovenia.

State portal eUPRAVA offers Slovenian citizens, per the life events concept, 250 most frequently used electronic services, which are connected to more than 30 databases. Along with electronic submission of applications, the portal provides its users insight into the statues of the submitted application and their personal information stored in national data records. The portal is adapted to people with special needs and those who prefer mobile technology.

To what degree can Slovenia and Serbia cooperate on the development of software products with a high added value?

We believe that Slovenian smart specialization strategy (S4) offers the suitable platform for cooperation of Slovenian and Serbian companies in this area. One of the first outcomes of the strategy implementation process was the establishment of Strategic Research Innovation Partnerships (SRIP) on each of the nine domains of S4. SRIPs are predominantly composed of companies (SME) and bind them with the universities and institutes harvesting its research and innovation potential on one hand and with the government, municipalities and business support environment on the other hand. One of the main activities of SRIPs is internationalization, where participated SMEs tend to form consortiums in order to enter new global markets.

In their second year running most SRIPs were able to identify key large scale projects with breakthrough technologies on their domain and support the consortiums which are preparing their applications for an open call for proposals for Demo/Pilot projects in which the implementation of the technologies (Key emerging technologies) for Industry 4.0 is required and the solutions which can be created in relation to human beings to fit the Industry 5.0. The Call is focused on 9 verticals of Smart specialization strategy, but digitization and digital transformation is also foreseen in all sectors of the economy. What is more regular RDI activities are being extensively and systematically supported through complementary calls for RDI with annual openings of the applications (RRI2, Eureka, Eurostars, RRI) which all follow the relevant placement of the projects within S4.

Another area of cooperation between Serbia and Slovenia could be in the field of high growth innovative enterprises. Besides startups we recognized the importance of growth and development of startups into scaleups and the scaleup enterprises themselves for raising the productivity, new jobs and competitiveness of Slovenia. Our aim is to upgrade the Action plan for startups also with challenges and measures for scaleups. We create a new measure for helping these enterprises to go global, on third markets through startup house and accelerators.

As a country which, according to many, has successfully dealt with brain drain, what kind of advice would you give Serbia in this respect?

Slovenia, of course, faces a “brain drain”, but obviously significantly less than in some comparable countries. This is certainly supported by the fact that Slovenes are naturally very attached to the domestic (working) environment, and we are more “poaching” from the aspect of working abroad.
Another important aspect is that at the time of the conjuncture the labor market in the home market offers many opportunities for quality work and jobs, in almost all fields of expertise. But also companies or for example Scientific institutions have accepted the fact that it is necessary to pay experts better if they want to keep them in their working environment, company. Obviously, a better paid job abroad is not always a convincing argument for changing the working and living environment. The quality of life in Slovenia is better than in many more economically developed countries.

The third argument is probably the fact that the Slovenian economy, science and education are strongly integrated into the international environment, which means that our top experts can at any time, satisfy their work, knowledge, experience or the need for additional training with active professional cooperation abroad, also for a shorter period, or with active professional exchanges.

How would you assess the tourism cooperation between Slovenia and Serbia?

Cooperation in tourism between Slovenia and Serbia is very good. Serbia is one of the most important tourist markets of our country, it was on the 10th place according to tourist overnights in 2017. More then 112.000 Serbian tourists visited Slovenia, which is 9,14% increase compared to the previous year. We also recorded a 20% increase in the number of tourists visiting Serbia in the first 8 months of 2018.

Slovenian Travel Organization implements various promotional activities in Serbia and is regularly present at the international tourist fair ITF in Belgrade. Slovenian Tourist Board (SIW) also hosts Serbian tour operators and organizes study tours for journalists every year.

Cooperation between Slovenian Travel Organization and Tourist organization of Serbia is working very well. In 2017 they organized a joint presentation in Iran, which was very successful. Association of Mountain Centers of Slovenia, Association of Slovenian Cableway and company Ski Resort of Serbia is also successful.

There is quite a few visible investments by Serbian investors in Slovenian tourism. To mention some of them: Hotel Intercontinental, Grand hotel Palace – Kempinski Palace, Portorož Airport.

Employers in the Slovenian hotel and catering sector are very interested in employing staff from Serbia, having adequate knowledge and skills, as well as quickly learning the Slovene language. Therefore, we welcome the signing of the Agreement on the Employment of Serbian Citizens in the Republic of Slovenia, which will eliminate some of the administrative obstacles in this field.

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